Let’s face it: lawyers are busy. Thanks to the billable hour, time is literally money. So what are the best practices for managing one’s time? I asked some of the busiest lawyers on Bay Street to see how they do it, and discovered three important principles: unlocking time, being efficient, and prioritizing. I will discuss each in a separate post over the next three months. First up: How to unlock your time. By that I mean, how to find new time in your day. Here are three ways to do just that:
Bundle your tasks
Bundling refers to combining two or more important activities together so you can do them simultaneously — a common way lawyers I surveyed unlock extra hours in their day. Bundling is different than multitasking, though. For instance, reading a book while working does not save time if you need an hour to work and an hour to read your book, and doing both at the same time takes two or more hours.
One lawyer “bundles” by taking his mentees for “check-in” walks where he heads to Shoppers Drug Mart to buy items he needs at the same time. Sonja Pavic, an associate at Osler, lives five kilometres away from the office. She “bundles” her inevitable commute with her workout, and runs to work most mornings in the spring and summer. She also listens to BBC news podcasts during the run to catch up on the main headlines. Other lawyers schedule calls during their commutes. I try to meet a friend at the gym so I can “bundle” my workout and stay in touch with the important people in my life.
Learn to say “no”
Your downtime is precious, so there’s a tremendous about of benefit that can come from learning to say “no.” Outside of work, busy lawyers turn down everything that does not bring them joy. Many of the lawyers I canvassed decline social engagements they aren’t up for, and have people to help them with their house chores. Eliminating activities from your schedule that you feel forced to do will free up time for more of the things that you actually want to do.
Delegate (and trust) your team
Delegating to your team (which includes your legal assistant, law clerks, students and junior lawyers) is the biggest key to unlocking time. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing it’s faster to do things yourself, consider the time you spend teaching as an investment. Perhaps the first few times you delegate a task, it takes longer to teach and review than to do yourself, but eventually your team will learn how to do it correctly with minimal to no supervision. If you can’t delegate to your team, perhaps you need to reconsider who is on it, or if you are giving them the right support.
Next month, in part two of this time-management series, I will discuss strategies for working more efficiently.
Photo from Sean MacEntee